Hundreds of millions of people are suffering from hunger all over the world. Hundreds of millions. In the United States alone, that number hovers around 37 million, according to Feeding America.
Now, imagine just for a moment all those hundreds of millions of starving people standing in pastures on farms across America, and this is what they’re forced to witness: farmers plowing tens of millions of pounds of perfectly good vegetables back into the soil. Thousands of gallons of milk poured and hundreds of thousands of eggs smashed at their feet. Millions of farm animals being euthanized, gassed, suffocated to death.
Imagine, too, what these farmers are witnessing: Months of hard work, their livelihoods destroyed. Loss beyond imagination.
The saddest part of it all: The world produces enough food to feed everyone on the planet. We all know this. What we don’t know—and what the coronavirus pandemic has made blatantly evident—is how to properly manage the surpluses. The New York Times did a commendable job covering the many aspects of this American tragedy.
Now it’s time to start thinking beyond the problem and come up with solutions as to how to rework and reimagine our entire food supply chain—from the agricultural sector to the private sector to the public sector to everyone at home. We all have a role to play.
Industry collaboration needs to scale up and out. Several global companies are already helping to fight hunger by donating tens of millions of pounds of excess food and grocery products to food banks in partnership with organizations like Feeding America. Many financial institutions have also donated millions of dollars to the cause. The problem is, this isn’t enough.
Every company across every industry that handles food waste daily—from food manufacturers to food retail to restaurants to hospitality to cruise lines and beyond—should contribute to the cause. And those that are leading the way can serve as examples for others to follow. In this aspect, more peer-to-peer industry collaboration is also needed.
Resources need to be provided where it matters most. Even if all the surplus perishable food across the country was donated, it still doesn’t change the fact that food banks, soup kitchens, and Meals on Wheels programs can only handle so much. They simply don’t have enough resources—commercial freezers, refrigerators, and volunteers—to absorb the blow.
I’ve seen this problem firsthand as a volunteer at a local soup kitchen that has only two commercial refrigerators, both of which are on their last leg, but the soup kitchen doesn’t have the funding to purchase new ones. And that’s only a pinhole-size peep into the challenges that food banks and soup kitchens face across the country every day.
Policymakers can help in a big way here. For example, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, recently introduced legislation that would allocate billions of dollars to assist food banks in buying fresh foods directly from farms. Thus, food banks could buy fresh food on an as-needed basis.
The private sector can get involved, too. Walmart, for example, provides funding for equipment, trucks, and logistical expertise to help food banks on the front lines of charitable food provision extend their reach and impact—in one case, providing a fleet of refrigerated, commercial trucks with new refrigeration units to keep food safe while en route.
To take it one step further, however, what if policymakers and the private sector worked together to provide farmers with the financial aid and resources needed to export surplus food to other countries with starving populations?
Innovate by digitizing food supply chains. Some companies are starting to reduce their food waste by implementing new technologies. Italian cruise line Costa Cruises, for example, has significantly reduced its food waste by investing in digital kitchen scales connected to a data-sharing system that quantifies food waste—including food thrown away during meal prep, mistakes made in the kitchen, food prepared but not served, and uneaten food.
With this data map, the company can focus on where to train and retrain staff, and chefs can take corrective changes where necessary. In one year, Costa’s fleet achieved a 37 percent reduction in food waste. In another example, General Mills helped launch a tech platform called MealConnect that connects food donors with local non-profits. There are many other examples like this out there. Knowledge is power.
It’s not that America doesn’t have enough resources—and it’s not that industries don’t have the means, knowledge, or expertise—to be an active participant in helping to solve the world’s hunger and food waste problems, but it does take a willingness by both the private and public sector to invest in building a more resilient food supply chain. And if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we all need a more resilient food supply chain.
Special report: Leadership in a time of unpredictable change
- Currently reading
Imagining a utopian food supply chain